STUART, Fla. - The 'Munaissance' marches on.
It's been a long process, but golfers are finally getting a taste of something very different in one coastal Florida locale.
Though not quite as dense with golf courses as Palm Beach County, its neighbor to the south, Martin County more than holds its own, with dozens of public and private layouts in communities like Palm City, Stuart and Hobe Sound. Elite clubs like The Floridian and Medalist Golf Club sit within its borders, as well as Michael Jordan's Grove XXIII.
But so do several publicly-accessible options. My favorite among them is The Florida Club, a quiet community not far from I-95 with a Pete Dye-inspired design by Dick Gray, a superintendent whose working relationship with the great architect dates back to the 1960s at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Indiana. A recent change in ownership at The Florida Club has it looking as spiffy as many cloistered private courses nearby.
Yesterday, a brand-new course debuted after making locals wait a little longer than they'd anticipated. Sailfish Sands, the municipal facility rechristened this year and formerly known as Martin County Golf Course, is in the home stretch of a two-year, multi-million-dollar renovation project. The centerpiece for golfers: the conversion of its old 18-hole Red/White routing into the new Sands Black/Gold layout, a reversible 9-hole course laid out by architect John Sanford, whose career includes original layouts like Pointe West Country Club in Vero Beach and the popular Granite Links outside Boston. Sanford has also collaborated with Jack Nicklaus, including on the design of Ferry Point Golf Links in the Bronx.
Sailfish Sands was a very different project. Sanford was tasked with helping the county reduce and modernize its golf footprint while still offering an engaging product, especially for seniors and budding golfers. The Sands Black/Gold course seeks to do just that, along with a brand-new practice facility outfitted with TopTracer ball-tracking technology and lights for evening enjoyment.
"As a player development facility, we designed the reversible nine to be unintimidating and friendly to new golfers," said Sanford. "It's also designed for walkers and families to enjoy time together while honing their skills in a two hour window."
The Sands stands out as an example of restrained design - ideal for the core clientele of a Florida muni. Just two dozen bunkers, all of them well-placed but none of them onerously large or deep, provide enough visual contrast to help golfers navigate along the expansive grass corridors while also functioning to help them build skills. The fairways are broad with subtle contours and the greens, often slightly elevated, are mostly open in front. As the turf matures and tightens, the ground game will become increasingly viable.
The clockwise par-35 Black routing plays 500 yards longer than the counterclockwise, par-34 Gold routing. While the Black is bolstered by two long par 3s (240 and 220 yards from the tips, respectively), the Gold is a bit sportier, with three one-shotters and a potentially drivable par 4 Sanford fashioned out of a slim, angled pond and an elevated greensite left over from the Red/White course.
While other American reversible golf courses like the Loop at Forest Dunes in Roscommon, Mich. and the municipal Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta change their routings each day, the Sands course will switch its routing weekly. Nine-hole rates with cart are $20 for Martin County residents and $25 for everyone else.
Other golf course news and notes
'EPIC' RESTORATION - Gil Hanse, the busiest architect in golf, has just signed on to lead a $24 million restoration of the golf course at Yale university in New Haven, Conn. Long seen as the best college course in America, and one of the world's 100 best courses, the 1926 C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor design's best days are ahead after a long closure during the initial COVID-19 pandemic prompted outcry about its upkeep. Those concerns have been put to bed. [LINK: Golf Course Industry]
CHANGE OF MANAGEMENT - Ferry Point Golf Links is on the verge of having new management. As part of the City of New York's unwinding of all public/private partnerships with former president Donald Trump, the Department of Parks and Recreation announced plans to award the Ferry Point golf course concession to CORE Services Group, which runs many local homeless shelters. As part of the new regime, Bobby Jones Links, which manages a growing portfolio of private, public and municipal golf courses, is expected to take over day-to-day operations. [LINK: The City]
ABRUPT CLOSURE - The Bluffs on Thompson Creek, an Arnold Palmer design located 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana that was once a top-100-rated American public golf course, abruptly closed last week after years of financial difficulties. The course is up for sale for $3.1 million. It made local headlines last year when an employee was charged with stealing money from the club. The employee's husband, the general manager at the time, resigned in the wake of the subsequent investigation. [LINK: WBRZ.com]
GOLF-ADJACENT - Golfers of a certain persuasion, beware the looming kummel shortage. The clear spirit, which tastes strongly of licorice and is favored by members of many clubs in the British Isles, is set to become scarce since one of its major distillers appears to have closed up shop. [LINK: Cookie Jar Golf]